You've probably heard this before from friends or family: Job hunting is a full time job. It's also one of the most frustrating jobs around. Endless hours, dead-end interviews, hundreds of resumes sent, countless Linkedin contact requests and worst of all: no pay.
It's easy to see how most people can get discouraged with the job search process. It often feels never-ending, opaque and impersonal. It's also totally broken (see my last post on Why the Job Hunt process is broken).
The reality is that all of us have had to face it at some point or another (unless you're born filthy rich and become a professional bum - and even then). No matter how much education, intelligence or success you've had, if you're not your own boss or don't have your own business at some point you've had to deal with it.
In the 20 years I've been working I've marketed soft drinks, consulting services, nutritional supplements, underground rave parties, mobile games, app stores and marketing analytics. So I've seen my fair share of job searching both in my own career and as a hiring manager. Here are some tips I've found invaluable to stay sane, focused and most important of all: Positive
1. Know yourself. Sounds obvious? If it was I wouldn't mention it. Many people aren't quite sure what they're good at, what they're passionate about and how that translates into a career. I spoke about this a bit in my last post but this is where it all starts. If you know what you're good at and how that translates into a career you'll be more self-confident, more excited and passionate during the process and more motivated. Also when you find what you want your passion and excitement will shine through during the interview process.
How do I know what I'm good at? Ask friends and family. Ask past co-workers. Think back to your childhood and consider moments in high school or college when you could spend hours on end doing something and not see the time go by. There are also online tests you can do to find your personality type and how that translates into a career. One of these, the Jung Typology test can be found here and once you have your results it will even tell you about career paths that suit your personality type. Knowing yourself will build your self confidence and help you understand what you want and what you don't. It will also save you time and energy by avoiding going down paths you know aren't right for you.
2. Focus, focus, focus. Many people who look for a job adopt a spray and pray strategy. They come up with a generic resume and hit every single job board and apply for as many things as they can and feel that they've had a great days work. Guess what? That doesn't work. As someone who's hired a lot of people let me just say that it's awesome when I get a resume and cover letter from someone who has really taken the time to read the job description, research my company and has a resume that closely matches what I'm looking for (even if it's not a 100% match). But all too often the reverse is true. I end up seeing countless resumes that don't have the right backgrounds, skills or required experience. To top it off applicants either don't bother telling me why they are a good fit or send generic cover letters (including "Dear Mr. Recruiter" when Linkedin clearly mentions who I am and a link to my profile). Focus is key. You may send out less resumes but your pitch is more likely to stick and that's ultimately how you're going to land a job.
3. Job search is a job - treat it like one. Searching for a job, especially if you've just been let go, can be brutal. You might be feeling demoralized, down and without energy. It's normal that you might need a few days or even a week or 2 to "snap out of it." Most of us do. We're human. Give yourself some time to mourn, decompress, get rid of that anger or whatever. But once that time is up get back up on the horse and get going. The key to succeeding at the job search is to quickly develop a plan, set yourself daily and weekly goals and execute on that plan the way you would when you're working on something in a paying job. That means things like getting up at the same time you used to get up, going through a routine every day, deciding how to allocate each part of your day (for example 9am - 10am for research, 10-11am for follow up emails, calls and meetings) and giving yourself goals. For example, when I've been job searching I break up my day between emails / follow ups, research, meetings, more follow ups, more research, writing and sports. I usually break each of these down into 1.5 hour blocks and leave the afternoons for calls and interviews. The point is: I have a routine and I stick to it.
4. Set yourself goals / targets. Whether it's a certain number of contacts, coffees, meetings each week or something else, you can't measure your performance unless you set a benchmark. At least this way you'll know how you're doing. Getting a job is like sales: you have to identify a lead, qualify it, nurture it, reach out, negotiate, and close the deal. The same goes for job hunting. After a few weeks you'll get an idea about how many coffees / meetings generate how many new contacts and of those new contacts how many lead you to real opportunities and so forth.
5. Get Organized. There is great, free software out there you can use online like Trello or Asana which helps you manage and organize projects. I've found Trello awesome in helping me organize all the contacts I have, who I've talked to, when I have to talk to someone next or follow up with a company I met. You can use tools like these to keep detailed notes on all your conversations, emails or meetings and even set reminders on which tasks you need to do next and who you need to follow up with. Those reminders are a great way for you to stay ontop of what matters and it will also give you a small sense of accomplishment when you check things off your list.
6. Do sports. I can't stress this one enough. Doing even 20-30 minutes a day will make a world of difference. I do 20 minutes of yoga each morning to start off my day. It helps me stretch out, focus, wake up and start off on the right foot. Simply put: there is no excuse not to do it. Even if you can't afford a gym, new skis, a new bike or whatever there are lots of things you can do to stay in shape. I found a number of YouTube Yoga videos online and if you couple those with some of those elastic bands you can get on Amazon.com for $20 you're set. If you're not into Yoga, try walking. Leave the car at home and walk to your local convenience store to buy something. I've found exercise (I also bike 40-50 miles per week) to be critical whether I'm working or not. It brings oxygen to your brain, helps you think more clearly, makes you feel good and you may even look better (who doesn't like that?). More importantly, it helps kill the stress that the job search produces. So find something you don't mind doing and put 20 minutes in your calendar every day as part of your routine.
7. Keep a "success log". OK, this one may sound simplistic and maybe even a bit childish but particularly if you're feeling down what I've found helpful is to keep a diary where every morning or evening you you sit down (or whip out the laptop) and write at least 5 things that went well for you that day. It can be anything. The point is that you'll always find somethings that went well. Maybe you had a good interview or a friend made an intro to someone that you should talk to. Maybe you finished a long job application. Perhaps you just completed an online course you need to help change careers. It could even be something as simple as having gone for a nice, long walk in the park during a sunny day (remember the part about doing sports?). No matter how rough your day was you'll always find things that went well and things to be thankful for. I've found that stopping for 5-10 minutes and being thankful for what I have helps me maintain perspective. Things are never as bad as they seem.
8. Job search is a people business so get out there! No matter how many online job boards you use, how long you spend on Linkedin or how many resumes you send out the research still shows that between 70-80% of jobs aren't even published. More importantly, an article in NPR several years ago also revealed how companies usually receive about 6 applicants for each job! The solution is: get out and network. There's simply no way around it. I'm not saying don't look at the job boards and don't apply for anything online. You should certainly give it a shot but in the 20 years I've worked I've never had a role come through an online job application. Every single one of my jobs came through someone I knew (except one). The key to networking is to grow your network. Not everyone you speak to will have a job for you but they will know several people who know other people who might. In my experience there is no such thing as a wasted meeting, coffee, lunch or phone call. Everyone I speak to knows someone who has helped me. Think of it as the law of probabilities: the more people you reach out to, the greater the chance you'll find something. The cool thing as well is I've often found that 1. Networking gets me out of the house, clears my head, gives me exercise (I walk to many of my meetings) 2. Networking helps me make new friends and 3) Networking always helps me learn new things. What you may also find is that, particularly with folks you know, they will know things about you and can also give you valuable advice about things you might be good at or even career options you haven't even considered. Networking is awesome. Get out there and meet someone.
9. Use your downtime. Sometimes people ask me: "what about getting into an industry I don't have any experience in? How do I do that?" Well, if there's one thing you may have when you're job hunting it's downtime. We all end up with extra time on our hands. So you can either play video games or do something really useful. A couple of things I do which have been really helpful:
a) Write. That's exactly what I'm doing right now. I'm writing. I'm having a conversation with you. I'm thinking, writing and sharing advice and at the same time I'm learning about something I'm passionate about: helping people find jobs they love. Often times when you write you have to research and when you research you learn new things. But also the great thing about writing, especially if you enjoy it, is that it helps position yourself as a thought leader. As someone who knows what they're talking about and is excited about that subject. For example, let's say you have to follow up with a recruiter you talked to last week about a job. What do you think will be a more effective? A simple email asking him / her where they are in the process or a friendly email that says "Hey, I hope you're doing well. I recently was doing some research on your industry and thought I'd share this post I wrote about the topic. I hope you find it interesting and would appreciate any feedback you might have." Notice the difference in style and approach here. The first approach is what everyone and their mother does. The second one is a soft sell which shows you really care and are researching and developing expertise about the company's product or industry. It's also a friendly reminder ("by the way, any news?"). I've written blog posts read by people I didn't know who subsequently reached out to ask me for coffee or lunch. And guess what? Even if I don't get an interview out of it, they introduce me to someone else who might ;)
b) Read. Sounds obvious but if you're really interested in an industry / company that you don't know a lot about your best ticket is to read about it. Reading will not only develop your knowledge about the industry and company but it will also provide ammunition for your writing. More importantly it nourishes the brain and keeps you sharp. One of the #1 killers of the job search process is that the longer you're out of work the more your skills atrophy. The brain is a muscle, the more you use it the better it will work. Reading helps immensely and also helps fight off those moments when little else is happening.
10. Give back. One of the things I've found to be very helpful is to spend some of my time giving back to others. I do that by meeting with entrepreneurs and young people looking to start new businesses. I really enjoy meeting people, hearing about their ideas, their problems and giving them advice on how to build their businesses. In some cases these are companies / young entrepreneurs I advise on an ongoing basis. In others it might just be a few people who are getting started and who I've been introduced to. We each have different ways of "giving back". Maybe it's helping your child's school. Maybe it's volunteer work with young kids or the elderly. It doesn't really matter. Getting out there and helping others makes you feel alive. It makes you feel good. It can also be a source of learning and inspiration. For me, I find it's good for the soul and I like knowing that I'm helping people. Giving back will help you feel good about yourself, it will give you confidence (because of the feedback you get from those you're helping) and guess what? In the grand cosmic wheel of things if you believe in good karma then maybe someone will help you too.
So I hope these tips are useful and feel free to comment and let me know what's worked for you. It would be great to hear people's stories about how any of these tips have helped you or other tips you've found along the way. Never let the job process get you down. Stay focused, stay organized, stay fit and help others and you might just find that this process actually has some enjoyable parts to it that you don't get while you're working.